Rough, tough and territorial: Head coach Carol Jue leads with compassion and an attitude

Carol Jue

Head coach Carol Jue kneels down to speak to her players during a timeout in Chapman’s 97-69 win over Occidental College Feb. 14. Photo by Diano Pachote

As Carol Jue steps off the court after her team’s 14th straight win, she’s flooded with attention. The head coach of the women’s basketball team, unmissable in her six-inch black stilettos and hot pink dress, suddenly becomes an elusive celebrity. Players, coaches, family, children and a reporter all vie for her attention.

After more than two hours of yelling and praising her team to a 27-point win, Jue makes time for everyone. It’s this patience and care for others that, 15 years and 300-plus wins into Jue’s Chapman tenure, have endeared her to so many people.

“Half the people in the stands are there for her,” said Jennifer Lieu, one of Jue’s assistant coaches.

Jue was born in Hong Kong, China, but her parents immigrated to California when she was 3 months old. She grew up in East Los Angeles, where she said the atmosphere forced her to be defensive.

“You better be able to hold your own,” Jue said. “I was rough, I was tough. I had to learn how to be very territorial.”

To this day, Jue plays on a legendary club basketball team, Imperials Purple, which dominated Japanese-American basketball leagues in the 1970s and 80s.

As a player, Jue has a reputation for being physical – using all her fouls, drawing charges and setting cinder block screens.

Players say that intensity is Jue’s defining characteristic as a coach. Her teams press fervently on defense, take charges and pass the ball unselfishly.

Coach Carol Jue is known for dressing up for basketball games. Panther Archives

Jue, who was the first Chinese-American basketball coach in NCAA history, has a tough love coaching style.

Senior forward Irma Munoz said that Jue has always been her harshest critic – something she needed as a player and a person.

“Sometimes I might not want to hear it, but she’s there and she tells it how it is and it’s all for me,” Munoz said. “I might miss the yelling just a little bit.”

Jue has an open-door policy – players can approach her with any issues they have – basketball-related or personal. Jue has consoled players during difficult times, advised players on job searches, and she even drove Munoz to a dentist appointment in her freshman year.

“It’s almost unheard of,” said Munoz, who is also from East Los Angeles. “She really doesn’t have to do everything she does, but she does it because she cares for the program, she cares for the people that are in it.”

Jue’s caring nature has helped her build diverse connections. Her practices are filled with alumni, which is the most rewarding part of coaching for Jue. After games, Jue takes her team out to eat at upscale restaurants where Jue often knows the owner.

“We eat Mexican food, we eat Hawaiian food,” Jue said. “I’m trying to show them different cultures.”

After graduating from Claremont McKenna College in 1992, Jue worked as an accountant while coaching at night. She transitioned to substitute teaching and was an assistant coach for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s basketball team for four years.

When the head coach went on sabbatical in 2002, Jue took over as head coach, leading Claremont-Mudd-Scripps to a second-place conference finish. The next year, she took over as Chapman’s head coach.

“She’s a great role model for our student-athletes,” said Terry Boesel, Chapman’s athletic director. “She’s a hard worker, she’s prepared. She cares about (her players).”

Lieu – who teaches a self-defense class with Jue – has known Jue since Lieu was 13.

When Lieu – an eight-time national champion swimmer at the University of California, San Diego – was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in October 2016, Jue helped organize a group of 50 people to travel to San Diego and support her.

“(She’s) very compassionate, giving, definitely the mother figure,” Lieu said. “She’s very willing to take care of everyone.”

Off the court, Jue speaks with hints of sarcasm and an evident tranquility. She has a wisdom about the nature of people and the world, offhandedly recounting endless vignettes with a sense of nuance and self-awareness.

But when she needs to, Jue transforms without notice.

“Can you guys turn that (music) down?” she yells while smiling to her players, warming up before a practice. “I’m being interviewed.”

“Half the people in the stands are there for her.”

On game day, it’s much easier to hear Jue, whether it’s her voice or the sound of her heels clicking across the court.

“I think she purposely wears heels so she can be really loud and stomp,” said junior guard Jaryn Fajardo.

But the heels and stunning outfits aren’t a gimmick. They’re a representation of Jue’s experiences and her ability to command respect.

“We come from a poor family,” Jue, one of four children, said. “My mom and dad worked seven days a week. I never take anything for granted.”

Off the court, Jue wears what she’s comfortable in, often donning a sweatshirt and sweatpants. But come game day, she will out-dress anyone.

“I like dressing up for those two hours,” Jue said. “I take pride in that. When I’m on the court, I’m going to show you that I’m a really well-dressed coach.”

The team constantly wonders what Jue will wear to the next game.

“I’ve been here for four years now and I don’t really think I’ve seen her repeat an outfit,” Hum-Nishikado said. “I love that she can just be in sweats and a T-shirt and running shoes, and then just come out in her heels looking great. It definitely pumps us up.”

When Jue’s not at Chapman, she often coaches her sons, Ryley, 15 – who she named after Pat Riley – and Carson, 12. She used to coach her husband, Kevin, who “used to love to finger roll like James Worthy,” Jue said. She quickly nipped that move in the bud.

“She coaches everyone the same,” Fajardo said. “Same terminology, so it’s funny for me to watch as a spectator.”

Somewhere in between coaching and playing, she finds time at home – but not too much. She said she went stir-crazy in her third season, after Ryley was born.

“In Chinese tradition, you’re supposed to stay in the house for 30 days and I told my mom I could not go 30 days,” Jue said. “With (Carson), I planned it around basketball.”

It’s impossible to say when Jue will stop coaching, if ever. Considering her father, Wayne, still plays basketball at age 76, it may be a while.

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